For years now I have suffered from ADD/ADHD-like symptoms that make it difficult for me to initiate working on tasks or to focus on completing them. I have tried various medications and supplements and none of them has lived up to its promise. Since early 2021 I have switched my focus to seeking psychological cures, and have discovered many things that help (such as forcing myself to write poetry).
But in the last two weeks I have discovered something immensely powerful after remembering Brother Lawrence’s 1692 classic The Practicing the Presence of God (a very short book, link to free version). If I feel restricted by ADHD symptoms, I bring God fully to mind and remain with Him, and within seconds I feel the front and sides of my brain “waking up” (I seen to have a very sensitive brain and I can feel physical sensations in different parts of it when there is a strong stimulus that causes a mental shift). That, I believe, means that extra blood is flowing to the prefrontal cortex (needed for executive function / planning and remaining on tasks) and the temporal lobes (needed for doing any creative work).
And the reason it works is that the presence of this Person in the mind suddenly starts to activate the brain’s prefrontal circuits that are dedicated to tracking and analyzing a person who is present with us (to know their thinking and intentions). And as this Person can be spoken to, this also activates the creative temporal lobes, empowering us to carry out self-expression.
I realize that I have sometimes gone for months while almost always having God in mind with me, and those are probably my most productive months. Last year in August I realized that the only times when my mind was full of inspiration and I constantly took down notes on ideas coming into my head were times when I practiced God’s presence. I went to my notes app, took note of the periods in which many ideas were written, then compared them to my record of times when I had completed the reading of the Quran many times, and the times lined up. The times when I read the Quran often are also times when I have God the most in mind, the two go together although I do not know which one causes which.
How to do it
The way to practice the presence of God is simple. Simply start speaking to God in your mind, as you do when you are praying to Him for something. And at some point you are able to remain in contact with Him without having to say anything–He just becomes a friend who is with you. And as you do it more often it becomes easier and easier, just as when a stranger is in the house with you, at first their presence can distract you, but as you get to know them you can sense their presence without it taking away your attention from other things.
If you struggle to keep God in mind, merely go back to speaking with Him by praying for something, such as by saying astaghfirullāh (“I seek God’s forgiveness”). It should be done sincerely and with all your heart, as if you are really speaking to a person. If it’s merely a word you say, it will to bring you into His presence to reap the benefits.
If for whatever reason you feel unworthy of speaking to God and being in His presence, here’s something I wrote to a friend a few days ago:
Never let Satan make you think you are unworthy of speaking to God. Be brave when facing God and think "I'm unworthy but that doesn't matter, I'm still Your creature and You have to take care of me." He responds kindly when someone speaks to Him as if He really exists and is present even if the person is angry and upset at Him. Being spoken to is one of His greatest pleasures regardless of the person's mood. He is kind and has a sense of humor, like a father who laughs at his angry little 2 year old daughter when she attacks him physically in a tantrum, and only feels love for her.
You may think you need to do a lot of repentance before you are worthy of being in God’s presence. But in Islam the word for repentance, tawba, literally means “to return”, and to merely bring God to mind and speak to Him is to return to Him, thus achieving repentance. InshaAllah (God-willing) as you practice His presence more and more, it will become second nature to avoid anything that displeases Him.
Another possible reason it works is attachment (look up attachment theory). Being in the presence of a “caregiver” (an important term within attachment theory and it can be anyone whom we love and trust) calms us down, reduces inflammation, and increases cerebral blood flow, enhancing our thinking and self-expression and giving us confidence to explore. Meanwhile, the absence of a caregiver leads to anxiety, lack of curiosity, inflammation, fear of exploration, fear of self-expression, and reduced cerebral blood flow. And what caregiver is better than God?
Obviously there are a great many spiritual benefits from practicing the presence of God, but that’s a different topic and not the focus of this article.